ATHENS, Ga. — Saturday night was long pegged as an opportunity for Missouri to increase its stock in the Southeastern Conference.
Three weeks ago, Missouri ventured away from home ranked after a five-game winning streak at Faurot Field. Matchups at Vanderbilt and Kentucky were next on the docket, both games the Tigers were favored to win by double digits.
If things unfolded according to plan, the trip to Georgia would have served as the crossroads for the Tigers to win the SEC East for the first time since 2014.
But nothing has gone according to plan for MU the past 21 days.
Especially not Saturday night.
Missouri proved zero match for No. 6 Georgia at Sanford Stadium in a disheartening 27-0 defeat that not even the Tigers’ best damage control will fix over the final three weeks of the regular season.
“We’ve got to get some things figured out,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said, offering a quick assessment, “because we’re going to need some points.”
Odom and Co. haven’t won since Oct. 12 against Mississippi and still need one more victory to be bowl eligible, though the NCAA has yet to announce its decision on Missouri’s appeal of its postseason ban.
The once-rising Tigers have sunk to three straight losses by a combined score of 77-21.
They return home for No. 10 Florida and Tennessee the next two weekends before facing Arkansas in Little Rock on Black Friday.
“It’s been tough, you know,” MU offensive lineman Yasir Durant told reporters late Saturday about the Tigers’ freefall. “I don’t know what else to say. If you were playing and you lost three straight, you would be pretty upset, right?
“So that’s how we’re feeling right now."
Georgia managed to score just two touchdowns Saturday. The Missouri defense limited the Bulldogs much of the night as five drives ended with Bulldog field-goal attempts, four of which Rodrigo Blankenship converted.
An average offensive effort would have kept MU in the game. It didn’t get one.
With Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant sidelined due to a hamstring injury suffered against Kentucky two weeks ago, backup Taylor Powell took the reins of the offense for his first collegiate start.
Ready for his moment, none of Powell’s teammates offered much of a lifeline.
Missouri’s top three running backs combined for 55 yards on 21 carries as the Tigers moved the chains on just four of 14 third downs.
On what could have been a game-changing play late in the first half, Powell lofted a deep pass down the sideline to Kam Scott, who tried to make a one-handed catch instead of fully extending himself. The ball got away.
Scott’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the next play backed the Tigers into a punt, giving Georgia the ball back with 32 seconds left until halftime.
The Bulldogs capitalized with a 47-yard field goal as the half expired.
“Our energy and everything was good. I think we put together a plan. But I think at the end of the day, it’s just us going out and executing it and doing it with discipline,” Missouri receiver Barrett Banister said.
“We turned the ball over, we had penalties, and whenever you make those mistakes against a good football team like Georgia, it’s hard to do that and win the game. We’ve got to really focus on our details and show up as a disciplined football team like we’re coached to be.”
The Tigers punted nine times overall and only twice produced drives eclipsing 30 yards. The first such drive ended with a Powell interception deep in Georgia territory. The other resulted in a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter after third-string signal caller Connor Bazelak moved the Tigers to the Georgia 1.
“Just seemed like every time we were getting a drive going, something would happen,” said Powell, who completed 10 of 22 passes for 84 yards.
Half of the Tigers’ possessions — yes, half — finished as three-and-outs.
Granted, Georgia entered the night eighth in the nation in total defense. The Bulldogs were coming off a top-10 victory against Florida. The home crowd presented the toughest atmosphere Missouri has played in this season. That said, amassing just 198 yards leaves something to be desired no matter the situation.
The most concerning aspect of Saturday night wasn't simply that the Tigers lost to the Bulldogs, but rather how they lost.
Regardless of Bryant’s status going forward, and that of Johnathon Johnson, the Tigers’ leading receiver entering Saturday who missed the game due to an illness, there is room for every member of the shut-down offense to look in the mirror.
As of Saturday night, it already feels too late.
"It doesn't matter how many yards rushing or passing that we do or don't have,” Odom said. “Somehow, some way, we’ve got to put points on the board. We can't go in another cycle and another seven-day period of time.
“I can't be standing here next week saying the same thing."